Trusts in the Cultural Landscape

Published on: September 10th 2019

Over the summer of 2019, Community Leisure UK did a scoping exercise to identify the breadth of members’ cultural work. We presented the results of this work in a webinar for members and partners today, of which a summary can be found in this article. Please do contact us for more information or for a recording of the webinar.

We previously believed that 30% of our members had culture in their portfolio. Yet, we found that 58% of Community Leisure UK’s membership has culture in their portfolio of work. They manage over 1100 cultural assets – most commonly theatres, town or community halls/centres, libraries, museums, galleries, and archive centres.

The cultural programming and services trusts run from their physical assets are not limited to their traditional usage, and in support of national trends and community needs. Think, for example, about digital training provided in libraries, professional and amateur theatre, working spaces for local entrepreneurs, arts on prescription, mental health support groups, community festivals, and Dementia-friendly choirs.

The foundation of the trust model makes trusts unique in delivering public culture services:

“We are not for profit so can reinvest any surplus. [We are] able to respond to changing landscape and demands in a more timely way. [We also have] more ability to take programming risks and develop our audience”

Community Leisure UK member trust, 2019

Trusts are able to develop innovative, quality programmes and services, have the ability to diversity their income streams and access specific pots of funding, and through their charitable purpose have the best interest of the community at heart while having the autonomy to make agile decisions in response to community needs.

However, culture trusts are facing a difficult financial climate. Consequently, they report having to increase their admission costs. The general reduction in public sector support and the lack of funding available for capital investment projects lead to trusts having to manage dated arts and heritage buildings. This environment diminishes the value placed on culture and leads to reduced resources and capacity to deliver and develop programmes. The reduction in funding, most commonly caused by a significant reduction in management fees, leads to less risk taking in cultural programming and staff reductions.

The cultural landscape in Scotland, England and Wales also offer opportunities for culture trusts. These are characterised by a strong societal support for cultural programming and leadership from national and local agencies. Culture trusts’ alignment with these strategies form an opportunity to demonstrate culture trusts’ contribution to national and local priorities such as placeshaping. Culture trusts being community anchors see various opportunities to work with local partners to create community-focused events, engaging young people and promoting health and wellbeing.

Community Leisure UK is committed to enhancing the resilience of its member trusts. Our preferred role by members is that of an association that advocates and lobbies for the value of the trust model and to create networking and shared learning opportunities for member trusts. An additional area of work requested is that of an association that shares information on funding andon national cultural programming. Member trusts have also given us specific advice on how to strengthen our culture-based membership and on connecting members with relevant national agencies, which we will take to heart in the months to come.